Last weekend I went up to Grand Rapids Comic Con with a friend. It was fun, as usual, but during it I had probably one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had at one of these things.
One of the guests was Donnie Dunagan, whose name you probably don’t know, but who has the distinction of being the original voice of young Bambi. So, that beautifully genuine, childlike character that Bambi had? That was him.
He actually dropped acting when he grew up and became a career Marine, serving in Vietnam (needless to say, he never let his Marine buddies know about his childhood day job), to the point where even his wife didn’t know who he was until she found a box of fan mail in the attic.
Anyway, he was very courteous and classy, and great fun to meet. But it was only when he started talking about Walt, whom he described as “my friend” and told about how he would take him out for ice cream or burgers during the shoot, it was only then that it really hit me; this is one of the few people left who actually knew Walt Disney personally. Therefore, this is probably the closets I’ll ever come to meeting Walt himself.
As you probably know, Walt Disney is kind of a personal hero of mine. From the experience of writing my book and reading and learning about him, watching his films, and so on, I feel a real connection with him that I don’t feel with very many artists or historical figures. I’m well aware of his faults, but even those I feel like I understand. Anyway, meeting Mr. Dunagan, I felt that the big gap between Uncle Walt and myself had suddenly shrunk, so that I now have something like a personal connection to him.
It was really a profound experience.
I showed Mr. Dunagan my book and he was good enough to sign it. He seemed very pleased with the idea, and I’ve sent him a copy.
And to close up, he told me a very fun anecdote. While making Bambi, Walt took him to the zoo to see the deer, and he complained that they were boring. Walt gave him a look and said, “Our deer won’t be boring!”
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